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I just saw an interesting interpretation of Galadriel's gift to Gimli on Reddit today, I retraced the source of the image to this tumblr post:

The scene

If you’ve read the Silmarillion, you know who Fëanor was. If you don’t, Fëanor was the dickhead who created the Silmarils: three indescribably beautiful and magical jewels that contained the light and essence of the world before it became flawed. They were the catatlyst for basically every important thing that happened in the First Age of Middle Earth.

It is thought that the inspiration for the Silmarils came to Fëanor from the sight of Galadriel’s shining, silver-gold hair.

He begged her three times for single strand of her beautiful hair. And every time, Galadriel refused him. Even when she was young, Galadriel’s ability to see into other’s hearts was very strong, and she knew that Fëanor was filled with nothing but fire and greed.

Fast forward to the end of the Third Age.

Gimli, visiting Lorien, is also struck by Galadriel’s beauty. During the scene where she’s passing out her parting gifts to the Fellowship, Galadriel stops empty-handed in front of Gimli, because she doesn’t know what to offer a Dwarf. Gimli tells her: no gold, no treasure… just a single strand of hair to remember her beauty by.

She gives him three. Three.

And this is why Gimli gets to be an Elf Friend, people. Because Galadriel looks at him and thinks he deserves what she refused the greatest Elf who ever lived—- and then twice* that. And because he has no idea of the significance of what she’s just given him, but he’s going to treasure it the rest of his life anyway.

Just look at that smile on Legolas’s face in the last panel. He gets it. He knows the backstory. And I’m pretty sure this is the moment he reconsiders whether Elves and Dwarves can’t be friends after all. [source]

I didn't finish The Silmarillion, so I wonder; Is that true? Did Tolkien confirm this interpretation?

*: "twice" is in the source being quoted here; "three times" of course would be the correct amount but "twice" is retained to preserve the quote.

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@NominSim: Does the novel explicitly state Legolas's reaction? – bitmask Nov 26 '12 at 21:16
@bitmask It states that "The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment...", but Legolas' reaction is not specifically mentioned. However upon just reading it over, Galadriel does specifically state, "For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous." I'll have to look back at The Silmarillion and see whether the Feonor request actually happened (I don't remember it but am less familiar with The Silmarillion than with LOTR). – NominSim Nov 26 '12 at 21:23
@bitmask Doing a search of The Silmarillion with the following separate keywords; Galadriel, Fëanor, and hair all turn up nothing regarding any such request as stated in the quoted information from Reddit. Upon further research the interaction between Fëanor and Galadriel is in The Unfinished Tales, and not The Silmarillion. The Unfinished Tales can perhaps be stated as canon, but there are a lot of inconsistencies, will be difficult to state categorically that that was what caused Legolas' "smiling" reaction. – NominSim Nov 26 '12 at 21:40
+1 for calling Feanor a dickhead – Zottek Nov 27 '12 at 12:06
By the way, and native speakers miss out the nuance as well, he deserves what she refused the greatest Elf who ever lived—- and then twice that, implies that he got one lot of what Fëanor requested (1*x) and then twice that again (+2*x) for a total of three (1*x + 2*x= 3x). So the source isn't incorrect at all. – AncientSwordRage Jan 27 '14 at 8:15
up vote 36 down vote accepted

This blog post from 2011 discusses Gimli and Feanor, and their requests of Galadriel, in a bit more detail. There's some comparisons to Aule's creation of the dwarves, as well as a reference to a letter that may perhaps contain an answer:

In a letter that invites us to see the exchange between Galadriel and Gimli against the back-drop of the earlier encounter between Galadriel and Frodo, Tolkien indicates that until Frodo’s arrival in Lothlórien, Galadriel had actually believed her own exile from Valinor to be not temporary but “perennial, as long as the Earth endured.” It was only after her intercessory prayer on Frodo’s behalf—that he should be allowed the grace Galadriel believed to be forever denied to herself, namely of returning to the West—as well as a reward for her refusal of the Ring and her part in the war against Sauron, that Galadriel discovered the ban placed upon her return to the West to be eucatastrophically and miraculously lifted (Unfinished Tales 229).

The post goes on to suggest that Galadriel gave him the hairs because, ironically, the dwarf didn't want the hairs as a physical thing for himself. Rather, he wanted them as symbols of new friendship between elf and dwarf.

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"Eucatastrophically" is my word for the day. – Stephen Collings Nov 30 '12 at 18:11

Yes, this did happen. I don't remember if it's described in The Silmarillion or the Unfinished Tales, but three times Feanor asked for a strand of Galadriel's hair, and three times she refused because she could see the pride and darkness in him. I think in this quote: "For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous", the key word is "courteous". It is the difference in the manner Gimli asks for the hair that I think is the reason Galadriel gave to him what she wouldn't give to the mightiest of all elves that ever existed.

Also, it's true that while it's pretty hard to capture on film, Galadriel's hair is basically the eighth wonder of the world.

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As has already been answered, there is significance. Feanor asked for a single strand three different times and Galadriel refused him for his apparent (to her) dark intentions or mood. Frustrated, Feanor is inspired to make the Silmarils that will also capture the light of the trees of Valinor (as Galadriel's hair was poetically said to do). The Silmarils, in turn, cause pretty much all of the conflict read about in the Silmarillion.

Fast forward a couple of ages to Gimli asking Galadriel for a single strand (as Feanor had done before). Before giving him three, Galadriel asks what he would do with it. "Treasure it, Lady,' he answered, 'in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom to my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days." (Fellowship of the Ring, Farewell to Lorien).

Feanor wanted the hair, but when denied, made jewels that he coveted far too greatly. It caused tragedy upon tragedy in Middle-Earth lasting for thousands of years. Actually, the last vestiges of the evil ripples caused by Feanor's oath regarding the Silmarils is undone with the destruction of the One Ring.

Gimli also wishes to make it a jewel. However, in contrast, he will not covet it maliciously, but wishes it to be a symbol of good will between the peoples of Middle-Earth. Gimli, an otherwise unremarkable dwarf (from a historical standpoint) is surpassing the quality of the "greatest" of all elves. In a book filled with historical subtexts, this scene has one of the best and most important. It is showing that world history (along with many other things) has a chance at redemption.

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Some newlines, please! – o0'. Jan 27 '14 at 10:10
I find it appropriate that a son of Aulë is making such an artifact of peace and friendship. Feanor learned craft as a foster-son, but it takes a true son to make a true gem of light. – EngrStudent Apr 26 '15 at 23:33

A thread I found in research that was helpful, I also retooled the meme a bit.

enter image description here

Also this:

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Link-only answers are discouraged. Is it possible to incorporate some of the information in those links into your answer? – Jason Baker Apr 20 '15 at 1:53
I like this a lot better than the original Tumblr post. – user44330 Apr 22 '15 at 22:19

I think that in the book, Gimli doesn't even request three hairs. He refuses to request anything from Galadriel, yet Galadriel bids him to merely name his desire. It is only this that he does and only at her bidding.

Contrast this with Fëanor, who twice disrespects or ignores her saying no.

Had Galadriel denied Gimli, there is no way that he would have asked a second or third time. So since Gimli never actually asked, perhaps he got one hair for every time that Fëanor had bothered her.

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This is important. Gimli knows that his request is too much (even if he does not know just how much). Galadriel insists that he tell her and she laughs at his "Trap" and how can she refuse what she has commanded be told. – user001 Dec 8 '15 at 15:47

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